Event industry experts are calling hybrid the future of events, with 67% of respondents to EventMB’s latest research saying that hybrid is the future. A recent survey by Markletic shows that 71% of companies with more than 5 000 employees now include hybrid events in their event portfolios.
Elton Lee Hesketh, Managing Partner, at The Event Production Company, says it is easy to understand why more event planners and marketers are planning to employ a digital approach, even once live, in-person events return in full force and at full scale.
Hybrid has big benefits; enhanced reach, broader attendance, more flexibility, reduced travel costs, lower carbon footprint, diverse sponsorship opportunities, and the opportunity to collect valuable data. Hybrid also enables brands to get longevity from their content because it can be made available for attendees to re-watch and share.
“We have understood the value of hybrid events for several years, having planned and produced high quality hybrid events for ambitious brands, including amongst others, the broadcast of the 2010 World Cup Preliminary and Final Draw to a record audience of 4 billion people across 170 countries. We also coordinated and managed the non-broadcast events for the draw, including the World Press Briefing Conference, broadcast compound, FIFA board and organising committee meetings, media centre and translation facilities. It was a big and bold project for 2010, and even back then technology was pivotal to making it all possible.
“We consider hybrid to be the future of events and technology the enabler of this future. Undoubtedly, the use of technology for producing and delivering events was already burgeoning long before the pandemic. However, the past 18 months has seen an ushering-in of a new breed of more advanced, feature-rich event management technologies. These will shape how hybrid events will look in the future,” says Hesketh.
He believes that things are about to get exciting. More creative engagement tools fanned simultaneously to online and in-person audiences via robust hybrid event platforms will characterise hybrid events to tackle the challenge of keeping people engaged, specifically online attendees.
“‘Simultaneously’ is the magic word here. We know that engagement tools are a must-have for online events but when it comes to hybrid, these tools need to be adapted and rolled-out to live audiences as well. Mobile apps, gamification and social media will be increasingly important for connecting live and virtual audiences, allowing them to engage with the content as well as network with each other.”
The role of event moderator will get greater priority at hybrid events.
“Time and time again, we have seen how neglecting to have a proficient moderator to involve all audiences can see the spiral of hybrid events, even if they have spectacular engagement tools and the best event management platform. Regardless of where they are, all attendees must feel as though they are actively participating in the proceedings. The moderator is key to this, and for maintaining a balance between the virtual and in-person audience, without bias. Our advice: don’t skimp on your moderator. Commission the best you can afford,” advises Hesketh.
Successful hybrid events also have live speakers. Pre-recorded speaker sessions simply don’t have the same impact. With hybrid events especially, speakers should be live and interacting with each other and with their audiences in real time.
“Already we are seeing hybrid events assuming TV show-like formats, with live speakers in-studio – or at the venue – setting the stage for engaging interactions that people want to watch.”
According to Hesketh, new platforms allow for surround screen set-ups where audience members are in the same place but just on large screens, interacting with speakers and with one another.
This live interaction between speakers and with their audiences creates that “real feel” that is missing from so many online conferences and events. Importantly, it helps to create a sense of cohesion between remote and in-person guests because they are part of the same “show”. Accomplishing this chat show-like feel calls for strong technical infrastructure and capable audiovisual teams.
Hesketh says that accommodating a bigger audience across different time zones, with due consideration of limited attention spans for online guests, will require replicating live keynote talks and other event highlights more than once.
“Sessions will also need to be kept short. So, we expect hybrid events to be run over a course of a few days or weeks rather than being single-day events.”
The seemingly long list of must-haves for successful hybrid events may cause some eyebrows to rise over the costs of producing them. But, Hesketh reassures that turning to hybrid does not have to mean massive increases in expenditure.
“Remember that the in-person components of events are likely to be lower because venue, accommodation, transport, food and beverage, and conference material needs are reduced. Large in-person events also have a considerable carbon footprint. Switching to hybrid supports companies’ green goals and heeds customer and consumer calls to limit the impact of events and travel on the environment.”
An event management platform is one of the biggest costs associated with staging a hybrid event. Hesketh’s advice is to choose an all-in-one event platform that offers registration and ticketing, event check-in, live engagement and networking, sponsorship and exhibitor management, data analytics, and post-event reporting.
“This saves paying for point solutions to deliver on each of your requirements. A customisable solution will allow you to repurpose and re-skin your platform for different events so you will achieve economies of scale over time. Hybrid events are here to stay. Any investment you make now in hybrid event strategies and infrastructure now will continue to pay off into the future.”
Lack of experience with hosting hybrid events remains a barrier for many planners, organisers and brands. Logistics, including venue and vendor sourcing, technology requirements, presenters and speakers for hybrid events are more complex than strictly virtual or in-person events. That’s why over 62% of event marketers choose to work with a production services company to execute their events. This presents an opportunity for a new breed of event producers to carve a niche in an emerging, and quickly-evolving space, where specialised skills are in demand.
“Though hybrid events have been around for some time, the hybrid events of the future will look nothing like they did in the past or even in 2020. Technologies, engagement tools and even venues for hosting in-person components are evolving quickly, creating an exciting environment for bigger ideas, more creativity and better quality hybrid experiences,” concludes Hesketh.
With over 25 years experience producing world-class, memorable events, The Event Production Company has the skills and resources to produce a seamless experience that transcends the physical and virtual. The team also builds the digital infrastructure, including bespoke event platforms, apps and websites, to stage engaging hybrid events.